Two weeks ago I ran the New York City Marathon to raise funds for Gilda’s Club, an organization that provides FREE cancer support for cancer patients and their families. I ran in honor of my beautiful sister Patty, who lost her fight with breast cancer in 2014. Gilda’s Club provided her with a lot of emotional support as she was going through her illness, and provided me with a lot of emotional support through grief after she passed. It’s a tremendous organization, you can read more HERE.
So, even though I have NEVER been a runner, or really, and exerciser of any kind, when my friend Andrew told me at a Gilda’s Club fundraising event in June that he was thinking of running for the team, I said, “if you will, I will!” As soon as we agreed, a lovely woman from Gilda’s named Michelle appeared with a sign-up clipboard, and we were off and running! (yes, pun intended.)
It also seemed appropriate to run a marathon in Patty’s honor, as she was a runner her whole life, and had run two of them! Her friend Diane, who was her partner in one of them, gave me a lot of advice, and told me that she was going to be on the sidelines cheering me on, which felt very special too.
So in real couch to marathon style, I did my training and got myself ready for the big day…and couldn’t resist sneaking a tiny sketchbook into my fanny pack to document this event.
Andrew and I arrived at the starting area in Staten Island with our friends Tony and Frank, who’d also signed up to run. There were lots of people milling around, getting ready to line up for the start of the race.
The star athletes were there, and WOW do they have long lean muscular legs! I was in awe of all of them – A few of the Kenyan track stars really looked more like cranes – I am not exaggerating the length of this man’s legs in the slightest. Â The excitement was mounting as everyone crowded behind the starting line – held by the army no less. The sun was out and the morning sky was crystal clear blue as we all gazed at the Verazzano Bridge, gateway to our 26.2 mile journey. Tony told me that his grandfather helped build that bridge, and I thought what a wonderful feeling it must be for him to be running over it now, so many years later.Â
Everyone wears extra layers of clothing while waiting around on Staten Island for the race to start, and chucks them off as they enter the bridge. All the clothes are donated to charity from there.
As we crossed the Verazzano bridge and landed on the other side, people were yelling “BROOKLYNNNN! WELCOME TO BROOKLYNNN!” Quite a welcome indeed! We ran up 4th Ave and near Pratt, through Williamsburg (which was like an outdoor frat party) and through Greenpoint. People cheered every step of the way; there were musicians, drummers, church singers – you name it! The only quiet area was the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn – Â a few people cheering us on, and a lot of Hasidic men walking around as if nothing unusual was happening. Classic.
Then we crossed the Pulaski bridge into Queens – my usual running route now – and headed towards the 59th St. Bridge. My husband Neil and a few of our friends – Rosa and Toribio and their kids, Judy and Carol (from Dunolly!) and my sister’s marathon running mate Diane were all there to cheer me on, and give me some orange juice and a protein bar – thanks!
The 59th St. bridge was quiet – no spectators – but our friend Andrew played “New York New York” on his iPhone. Very appropriate – the views of the city from here were iconic. And again, what a gorgeous day! As we got closer to the Manhattan side of the bridge, we could hear a dull roar…
WOW – the crowds on First Avenue were AMAZING!!! People were four deep standing on either side, with signs and slogans – cheering and giving us so much energy to get uptown! I had written my name on my shirt, and people were yelling out “you’ve got this Veronica – go go go!” So empowering! The most fun part of 1st Ave was coming up on our group of friends waiting at 110th St. They were holding letters that spelled out, “GO RONNIE!” So sweet! Thanks Margaret, Alex, Melanie, Evan, Chris, Raj, Helena, Debra, David, and Val!
The clouds were gorgeous, white and billowy, as we ran over the Third Avenue bridge into the Bronx. The Bronx is one of the shortest parts of the marathon, but it’s where you hit the crucial spot – 20 miles. That’s where everyone says you will “hit the wall.” I wasn’t hitting the wall, and was still feeling good as we passed the Gilda’s Club group, who were cheering us on. One lady I remembered from the celebration dinner saw me and yelled, “Go Veronica!” What a great feeling – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so many people cheering my name like that – wow!
And then there was a “bio-freeze” station right before we turned to go over the Madison Ave. bridge back into Manhattan, so I thought I’d try it, to kill the nagging pain that had started Â appearing in the back of my right thigh. I stopped for a second and was engulfed in a spray of it.
As we entered back into upper Manhattan, around mile 22, I suddenly felt a wave of pain hit me EVERYWHERE at once – “Ow!” I yelled, “what the heck was that?”
“You just hit THE WALL,” said my friend Andrew. So now I know what it’s like! After that, my right leg was starting to feel weak, and I switched into what I’m calling my ‘granny trot’ to finish the race. There was no way I was not crossing the finish line! And my vision got very small, as in, just looking at my two feet moving, and the street – trying to avoid manhole covers and going up and down the hills of upper Manhattan and into Central Park. Andrew kept telling me that every hill was the last one – thanks Andrew, kept giving me hope! Ha ha.
But even at this tough stage, the whole experience was still super exciting, and, since I’d helpfully written my name on my shirt, complete strangers were saying, “you GOT THIS VERONICA” as I moved along with Andrew and Tony. Our other teammate Frank had decided to sprint the last two miles…we laughed and wished him well! (And caught up with him at the finish line later.)
And then, there it was – MILE 26! Woo hoo – only .2 miles to go – and ONE MORE HILL! We can do it….
I crossed the finish line, very, very happy, and a little bit dazed. A kindly classic New Yorker woman said, “Come here!” and wrapped me in a plastic poncho, handed me a bag with some fruit and other goodies in it, and put a medal over my head. I didn’t know you get a medal! So cool! I walked off, happy as a clam, with Andrew, Tony and Frank, to reunite with Neil and Val and the friends who had cheered us on at 11oth St. What an experience! Considering that as of late June I’d never run more than a 1/2 mile; I never, ever, expected to run a marathon. And now that I’ve done it, I’m hooked on running! And maybe will do the marathon again one year…
I was thinking of my sister Patty so much during the race, how she always put her best foot forward in life, not just when running marathons but in everything she did. And how much she loved to laugh – she would have loved how much the four of us were laughing as we ran the 26.2 miles together – laughing together was what Patty and I did best.Â I’m so glad that I was able to raise $5000 for Gilda’s Club, in honor of her. That’s a good feeling. Thank you so much to everyone who donated.
Plus, I have to say, New York City is amazing place – still can’t believe how many people came out to cheer the runners on! No place like NYC! :)